Manchester City fans proud of slapstick history as business end of season nears
With all the talk of hostile welcomes and European nights under the Anfield lights, Manchester City fans are beginning to feel like many see the upcoming Champions League quarterfinal tie as a foregone conclusion. Liverpool are famed for their history in continental competitions, while their opponents are more well-known for their past dominated by cock-ups, comedy and misfortune.
It's undeniable the Reds have performed better in years gone by, having won the European Cup five times and the UEFA Cup three. However, that former glory has little bearing on how well their -- and indeed Pep Guardiola's -- team will play when they meet at Anfield for the first leg in early April.
Equally, it's easy to cling on to former glories when they are as prestigious as Liverpool's are and when the current side is quite some way off the top of the table. It's also easy for City fans to comfort themselves over what will no doubt be an extremely tricky tie by reminding themselves of the points difference so far this season.
History, though, means something different to both sets of supporters. To Liverpool's, it's about pride in former achievements and remembering the good old days when their team was the best of the best, both at home and abroad. For City's, it's about reliving the successes, but being able to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all safe in the knowledge that it all turned out fine in the end.
Following Manchester United's 4-4 draw with Everton in the Premier League title race of 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson claimed his side had made it hard for themselves "as they normally do". City fans thought he had a strange way of making things difficult -- it must have been so tough for the manager to miss out on winning the club's 20th top-flight championship that year, only to win it the next. That sounded much easier than continual promotion and relegation in comedic circumstances, along side flirting with the idea of administration and a trip to the third tier in the late 1990s.
But that's because City fans are unique. Others would shy away from that embarrassment, consign such a dark period of their club's history to the annuls of time and forget it ever happened. The Etihad faithful embrace it, with the attendance for the team's 2-1 third tier loss at York in December 1998 (widely regarded as the point the club truly hit rock bottom) stretching to millions if you believe everyone who says they were at Bootham Crescent that day.
Only 7,527 can be telling the truth -- but that so many want to claim to have been there flies in the face of what conventionally fans celebrate witnessing. Opposition supporters wear Wembley trips, European finals, or league titles as a badge of honour -- City's wear a winter trip to an ancient cathedral city just off the A64.
Of course, the bad times weren't funny when they were happening. But even before the takeover by Sheikh Mansour and the success it brought, the fans were able to look back over the misery with a strange fondness. There's something funny about wasting time by the corner flag to hold on to a 2-2 draw with Liverpool on the final day of the 1995-96, believing the result good enough to stay up. It wasn't.
Who else can boast about being knocked out of the FA Cup by a balloon? That 2-1 loss at Sheffield United in 2008 is a source of great mirth, yet by rights it should be hidden away behind the five times City have won the competition instead.
Jamie Pollock's own goal in a 2-2 draw with QPR, which put City in real peril at the end of the 1997-98 season and left their survival in the second tier out of their own hands, is described on YouTube as the "best of all time". It went some way to help relegating the club, but it's never been erased from history.
It's why supporters prayed that Leicester, Premier League winners in 2015-16, survived the drop as they were threatened with relegation the following campaign. City are the only team to fall out of the English top flight while reigning champions -- and they'd thank everyone else for not spoiling that record by doing the same as they did in 1938.
Only City, too, could have gone down as the league's leading scorers, their 80 goals from 42 games not enough to keep them out of the drop zone.
The famous European nights at Anfield don't frighten City fans. They've such an appalling record on that ground, they're expecting very little from the game as it is. But if the worst that can happen is that they have a lot of work to do in the second leg, then so be it -- they're already having one of their most remarkable seasons ever.
It just so happens that this one is remarkable in a good way. Those who talk about a club's history in the same breath as success are boring. This is real, warts-and-all history -- and City supporters wouldn't change it for anything.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney